COLLEGE STATION — Dr. Neal K. Van Alfen, Texas A&M University plant pathology department head, has received the 1997 U.S. Department Agriculture Secretary’s Honor Award as chair of an international group charged with the biological improvement of chestnut trees and the management of chestnut blight. The award was presented by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman June 11 in Washington, D.C.
The award was to recognize the efforts of 71 members of the team including experts from the United States, Italy, France, Russia, New Zealand, Turkey, Crotia, Switzerland, Slovakia, China, Australia, Hungary, Yugoslavia, Spain and Austria.
“Its relevance to Texas is that chestnut blight essentially eliminated the once common chinquapin trees from our piney woods area. This is a small understory tree that was a source of nuts for game and even grown as an ornamental because of its flowers,” Van Alfen said.
The chinquapin is closely related to the chestnut tree, he said. When chestnut blight was introduced into the United States, it eventually moved to Texas and killed most of the chinquapins. Van Alfen’s research lab contributes to this project through the use of a fungal virus for biological control of the disease.